Former pro Franco stays busy in Japan as player-manager
KONOSU, Japan (AP) — Julio Franco is getting the best of both worlds as a 56-year-old player-manager for the Ishikawa Million Stars of Japan’s semi-professional Baseball Challenge League.
Not only does the native of the Dominican Republic and former major league All-Star get to keep playing the game he loves, Franco now has a chance to pass on a wealth of baseball knowledge to a new generation of players.
“I don’t see myself out of baseball,” Franco said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “I can go fishing, go play golf or go to Starbucks but at the end of the day, I love baseball and this is what I want to do.”
When he signed a contract with the Million Stars, Franco saw himself more as a manager than player but that hasn’t been the case so far. Due to an injury to a key player, Franco finds himself playing more than he expected.
And he’s doing well for a guy who started his pro career back in 1982.
Playing in 10 of his team’s 14 games this season, Franco has a .333 batting average with four RBIs and six runs scored.
“I wasn’t planning to play this much but one of my best hitters got hurt so I have to play first base or DH,” Franco said. “I was thinking about just pinch-hitting and playing once a week but since he got hurt I’m playing a lot more than I expected.”
As much as he loves playing, Franco says what really motivates him is the chance to teach the game to young players.
“What I enjoy most is the teaching,” Franco said. “When I went to America there were a lot of guys who put me on the right track and that’s what I want to do here.”
While he has no plans to leave Japan anytime soon, Franco said he sees his position with Ishikawa as a stepping stone to a possible coaching or managing job in Japan’s pro leagues or even Major League Baseball.
Meanwhile, his young players couldn’t be more thrilled to have someone of Franco’s stature as their mentor.
“He has a lot of knowledge and is very wise so we pick his brain a lot,” Million Stars catcher Jack Daru said. “He’s given us a different insight into the game because he’s played here and in the United States.”
Franco played parts of 23 major league seasons for eight teams from 1982-2007, with stints in Japan for the Chiba Lotte Marines and South Korea for the Samsung Lions during that time.
A three-time All-Star infielder and former American League batting champion, Franco was the oldest active player in the majors when he played his last game for the Atlanta Braves in 2007 at the age of 49, and is showing no signs of slowing down.
“I want to play until I’m 66,” Franco said. “That’s the goal.”